I've seen and heard the statement that bacteria will create toxins that will remain, despite reheating. (eg How long can cooked food be safely stored at room/warm temperature?)

I get all of that, and realize that it's taking a chance to eat food that's been in room temperature for an extended period of time.

I've never really cared, and often finished cooking something for the next day, turning off the stove right before i go to bed, and then putting it in the fridge in the morning, and thought that "it's fine, I'll just heat it properly later".

I've never had any sort of food poisoning in connection to this, at least that I've noticed. Guess that's the reason I never cared.

Recently I realized this might be very stupid. So: Is there anything long term dangerous in this situation that won't be noticable at all short term (not even nausea)?


I don't know if this might be more suitable to Seasoned Advice - I guess my question really is regarding health: When leaving food in room temperature, a number of bacteria etc will invade the food. Some will be "poisonous" themselves, some will create toxins. Some effects are immediate, some occur after 3-7 days.

If I do this from time to time, and nothing seems to happen within a week, does that mean that the concentrations of toxins simply was too low, and I'm "off the hook" this time?

Or are there any effects with a longer incubation time?

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    It sounds like you're asking if there are any long-term effects of frequently eating improperly stored food, assuming you don't get food poisoning. Unfortunately, I think that's beyond Seasoned Advice's scope, as we're not a health site, and we don't have any particular expertise in medical questions like that... – derobert Mar 12 '14 at 16:34
  • I am with derobert here. Health is specifically listed as off-topic on the site. Food safety is an exception, but under strict rules. And the best way of defining what is food safety, as opposed to long term health effect is exactly that, restricting food safety topics to things which send you to the hospital (or at least the toilet) the next day. Consuming the byproducts of bacteria over years is as off-topic as consuming food from aluminum pans over years. – rumtscho Mar 12 '14 at 18:26
  • @rumtscho: Not necessarily the next day. Common cases of food poisoning (salmonella, e.coli, etc.) can take 3-7 days for visible symptoms. That's why so many people who make bad food safety decisions seem to think they're just fine; they make themselves sick and then misattribute their illness to something they ate more recently (probably at a restaurant). – Aaronut Mar 13 '14 at 1:47
  • I realize that this at least borders on being off-topic. I will try to reword this slightly to see if I can be more specific. – NiklasJ Mar 13 '14 at 12:01
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    "The next day" was an imprecise generalization. I had understood that you are frequently eating food which has some level of bacteria-created toxins (but too low to produce acute symptoms) and you are asking if it has long term health effects. Now I see that your question was more intended to be about the incubation period for acute symptoms. But in both cases, this is a health question, and out of scope. If you are interested in details of food borne disease described at a layperson level, the "FDA bad bugs book" is a great source. It is a free (as in beer) e-book, just google it. – rumtscho Mar 13 '14 at 12:25

Yes, some bacteria do not produce immediately visible results, and molds are not visible until they reach the stage where they begin to produce their fruiting body (the part you see, is actually the organ they use to reproduce).

There are of course some signs that the food is irreverably compromised including:

  • Off smells, especially fermented or putrecent odors
  • Off tastes
  • Sliminess
  • Visible mold
  • Bubbles

Still, you cannot count on one of these signs being apparent. You will have to assess your own tolerance for risk.

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  • I should perhaps clarify. I'm talking about overnight, when the food looks, smells and taste alright, and I don't get any symptoms the following days. – NiklasJ Mar 12 '14 at 16:22
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    There is no possible way I will assert in a public forum anything in conflict with the FDA and other reputable agency recommendations. You must assess your own tolerance for risk. Remember, just because the dog hasn't bit you yet doesn't mean it won't. – SAJ14SAJ Mar 12 '14 at 16:23
  • @SAJ14SAJ: This dog is more than willing to assert that food authorities are often very far on the safe side: for healthy adults, leaving cooked food at room temperature for a day is almost always perfectly fine. By room temperature I mean 18–20 degrees. If you room is 30 degrees, I'd put it in the fridge. – Cerberus Mar 12 '14 at 17:20
  • @Cerberus: Yeah, this is Sweden, so >25 degrees almost never even happen. The thing that bothers me is Aaronauts comment on my original post. – NiklasJ Mar 13 '14 at 12:15
  • @NiklasJ: I wouldn't worry about it, but it's your choice. One of the most unhealthy by-products of fungi that we are regulalry exposed to is alcohol, but small amounts have no effect on one's health. – Cerberus Mar 13 '14 at 14:09

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